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Chapter 28

Maggie's new uneasiness might have had time to drop, inasmuch as
she not only was conscious, during several days that followed, of
no fresh indication for it to feed on, but was even struck, in
quite another way, with an augmentation of the symptoms of that
difference she had taken it into her head to work for. She
recognised by the end of a week that if she had been in a manner
caught up her father had been not less so--with the effect of her
husband's and his wife's closing in, together, round them, and of
their all having suddenly begun, as a party of four, to lead a
life gregarious, and from that reason almost hilarious, so far as
the easy sound of it went, as never before. It might have been an
accident and a mere coincidence--so at least she said to herself
at first; but a dozen chances that furthered the whole appearance
had risen to the surface, pleasant pretexts, oh certainly
pleasant, as pleasant as Amerigo in particular could make them,
for associated undertakings, quite for shared adventures, for its
always turning out, amusingly, that they wanted to do very much
the same thing at the same time and in the same way. Funny all
this was, to some extent, in the light of the fact that the
father and daughter, for so long, had expressed so few positive
desires; yet it would be sufficiently natural that if Amerigo and
Charlotte HAD at last got a little tired of each other's company
they should find their relief not so much in sinking to the
rather low level of their companions as in wishing to pull the
latter into the train in which they so constantly moved. "We're
in the train," Maggie mutely reflected after the dinner in Eaton
Square with Lady Castledean; "we've suddenly waked up in it and
found ourselves rushing along, very much as if we had been put in
during sleep--shoved, like a pair of labelled boxes, into the
van. And since I wanted to 'go' I'm certainly going," she might
have added; "I'm moving without trouble--they're doing it all for
us: it's wonderful how they understand and how perfectly it
succeeds." For that was the thing she had most immediately to
acknowledge: it seemed as easy for them to make a quartette as it
had formerly so long appeared for them to make a pair of
couples--this latter being thus a discovery too absurdly belated.
The only point at which, day after day, the success appeared at
all qualified was represented, as might have been said, by her
irresistible impulse to give her father a clutch when the train
indulged in one of its occasional lurches. Then--there was no
denying it--his eyes and her own met; so that they were
themselves doing active violence, as against the others, to that
very spirit of union, or at least to that very achievement of
change, which she had taken the field to invoke.

The maximum of change was reached, no doubt, the day the Matcham
party dined in Portland Place; the day, really perhaps, of
Maggie's maximum of social glory, in the sense of its showing for
her own occasion, her very own, with every one else extravagantly
rallying and falling in, absolutely conspiring to make her its
heroine. It was as if her father himself, always with more
initiative as a guest than as a host, had dabbled too in the
conspiracy; and the impression was not diminished by the presence
of the Assinghams, likewise very much caught-up, now, after
something of a lull, by the side-wind of all the rest of the
motion, and giving our young woman, so far at least as Fanny was
concerned, the sense of some special intention of encouragement
and applause. Fanny, who had not been present at the other
dinner, thanks to a preference entertained and expressed by
Charlotte, made a splendid show at this one, in new
orange-coloured velvet with multiplied turquoises, and with a
confidence, furthermore, as different as possible, her hostess
inferred, from her too-marked betrayal of a belittled state at
Matcham. Maggie was not indifferent to her own opportunity to
redress this balance--which seemed, for the hour, part of a
general rectification; she liked making out for herself that on
the high level of Portland Place, a spot exempt, on all sorts of
grounds, from jealous jurisdictions, her friend could feel as
"good" as any one, and could in fact at moments almost appear to
take the lead in recognition and celebration, so far as the
evening might conduce to intensify the lustre of the little
Princess. Mrs. Assingham produced on her the impression of giving
her constantly her cue for this; and it was in truth partly by
her help, intelligently, quite gratefully accepted, that the
little Princess, in Maggie, was drawn out and emphasised. She
couldn't definitely have said how it happened, but she felt
herself, for the first time in her career, living up to the
public and popular notion of such a personage, as it pressed upon
her from all round; rather wondering, inwardly too, while she did
so, at that strange mixture in things through which the popular
notion could be evidenced for her by such supposedly great ones
of the earth as the Castledeans and their kind. Fanny Assingham
might really have been there, at all events, like one of the
assistants in the ring at the circus, to keep up the pace of the
sleek revolving animal on whose back the lady in short spangled
skirts should brilliantly caper and posture. That was all,
doubtless Maggie had forgotten, had neglected, had declined, to
be the little Princess on anything like the scale open to her;
but now that the collective hand had been held out to her with
such alacrity, so that she might skip up into the light, even, as
seemed to her modest mind, with such a show of pink stocking and
such an abbreviation of white petticoat, she could strike herself
as perceiving, under arched eyebrows, where her mistake had been.
She had invited for the later hours, after her dinner, a fresh
contingent, the whole list of her apparent London acquaintance--
which was again a thing in the manner of little princesses for
whom the princely art was a matter of course. That was what she
was learning to do, to fill out as a matter of course her
appointed, her expected, her imposed character; and, though there
were latent considerations that somewhat interfered with the
lesson, she was having to-night an inordinate quantity of
practice, none of it so successful as when, quite wittingly, she
directed it at Lady Castledean, who was reduced by it at last to
an unprecedented state of passivity. The perception of this high
result caused Mrs. Assingham fairly to flush with responsive joy;
she glittered at her young friend, from moment to moment, quite
feverishly; it was positively as if her young friend had, in some
marvellous, sudden, supersubtle way, become a source of succour
to herself, become beautifully, divinely retributive. The
intensity of the taste of these registered phenomena was in fact
that somehow, by a process and through a connexion not again to
be traced, she so practised, at the same time, on Amerigo and
Charlotte--with only the drawback, her constant check and
second-thought, that she concomitantly practised perhaps still
more on her father.

This last was a danger indeed that, for much of the ensuing time,
had its hours of strange beguilement--those at which her sense
for precautions so suffered itself to lapse that she felt her
communion with him more intimate than any other. It COULDN'T but
pass between them that something singular was happening--so much
as this she again and again said to herself; whereby the comfort
of it was there, after all, to be noted, just as much as the
possible peril, and she could think of the couple they formed
together as groping, with sealed lips, but with mutual looks that
had never been so tender, for some freedom, some fiction, some
figured bravery, under which they might safely talk of it. The
moment was to come--and it finally came with an effect as
penetrating as the sound that follows the pressure of an electric
button--when she read the least helpful of meanings into the
agitation she had created. The merely specious description of
their case would have been that, after being for a long time, as
a family, delightfully, uninterruptedly happy, they had still had
a new felicity to discover; a felicity for which, blessedly, her
father's appetite and her own, in particular, had been kept fresh
and grateful. This livelier march of their intercourse as a whole
was the thing that occasionally determined in him the clutching
instinct we have glanced at; very much as if he had said to her,
in default of her breaking silence first: "Everything is
remarkably pleasant, isn't it?--but WHERE, for it, after all, are
we? up in a balloon and whirling through space, or down in the
depths of the earth, in the glimmering passages of a gold-mine?"
The equilibrium, the precious condition, lasted in spite of
rearrangement; there had been a fresh distribution of the
different weights, but the balance persisted and triumphed: all
of which was just the reason why she was forbidden, face to face
with the companion of her adventure, the experiment of a test. If
they balanced they balanced--she had to take that; it deprived
her of every pretext for arriving, by however covert a process,
at what he thought.

But she had her hours, thus, of feeling supremely linked to him
by the rigour of their law, and when it came over her that, all
the while, the wish, on his side, to spare her might be what most
worked with him, this very fact of their seeming to have nothing
"inward" really to talk about wrapped him up for her in a kind of
sweetness that was wanting, as a consecration, even in her
yearning for her husband. She was powerless, however, was only
more utterly hushed, when the interrupting flash came, when she
would have been all ready to say to him, "Yes, this is by every
appearance the best time we've had yet; but don't you see, all
the same, how they must be working together for it, and how my
very success, my success in shifting our beautiful harmony to a
new basis, comes round to being their success, above all; their
cleverness, their amiability, their power to hold out, their
complete possession, in short, of our life?" For how could she
say as much as that without saying a great deal more? without
saying "They'll do everything in the world that suits us, save
only one thing--prescribe a line for us that will make them
separate." How could she so much as imagine herself even faintly
murmuring that without putting into his mouth the very words that
would have made her quail? "Separate, my dear? Do you want them
to separate? Then you want US to--you and me? For how can the one
separation take place without the other?" That was the question
that, in spirit, she had heard him ask--with its dread train,
moreover, of involved and connected inquiries. Their own
separation, his and hers, was of course perfectly thinkable, but
only on the basis of the sharpest of reasons. Well, the sharpest,
the very sharpest, would be that they could no longer afford, as
it were, he to let his wife, she to let her husband, "run" them
in such compact formation. And say they accepted this account of
their situation as a practical finality, acting upon it and
proceeding to a division, would no sombre ghosts of the smothered
past, on either side, show, across the widening strait, pale
unappeased faces, or raise, in the very passage, deprecating,
denouncing hands?

Meanwhile, however such things might be, she was to have occasion
to say to herself that there might be but a deeper treachery in
recoveries and reassurances. She was to feel alone again, as she
had felt at the issue of her high tension with her husband during
their return from meeting the Castledeans in Eaton Square. The
evening in question had left her with a larger alarm, but then a
lull had come--the alarm, after all, was yet to be confirmed.
There came an hour, inevitably, when she knew, with a chill, what
she had feared and why; it had taken, this hour, a month to
arrive, but to find it before her was thoroughly to recognise it,
for it showed her sharply what Amerigo had meant in alluding to a
particular use that they might make, for their reaffirmed harmony
and prosperity, of Charlotte. The more she thought, at present,
of the tone he had employed to express their enjoyment of this
resource, the more it came back to her as the product of a
conscious art of dealing with her. He had been conscious, at the
moment, of many things--conscious even, not a little, of
desiring; and thereby of needing, to see what she would do in a
given case. The given case would be that of her being to a
certain extent, as she might fairly make it out, MENACED--
horrible as it was to impute to him any intention represented by
such a word. Why it was that to speak of making her stepmother
intervene, as they might call it, in a question that seemed, just
then and there, quite peculiarly their own business--why it was
that a turn so familiar and so easy should, at the worst, strike
her as charged with the spirit of a threat, was an oddity
disconnected, for her, temporarily, from its grounds, the
adventure of an imagination within her that possibly had lost its
way. That, precisely, was doubtless why she had learned to wait,
as the weeks passed by, with a fair, or rather indeed with an
excessive, imitation of resumed serenity. There had been no
prompt sequel to the Prince's equivocal light, and that made for
patience; yet she was none the less to have to admit, after
delay, that the bread he had cast on the waters had come home,
and that she should thus be justified of her old apprehension.
The consequence of this, in turn, was a renewed pang in presence
of his remembered ingenuity. To be ingenious with HER--what
DIDN'T, what mightn't that mean, when she had so absolutely
never, at any point of contact with him, put him, by as much as
the value of a penny, to the expense of sparing, doubting,
fearing her, of having in any way whatever to reckon with her?
The ingenuity had been in his simply speaking of their use of
Charlotte as if it were common to them in an equal degree, and
his triumph, on the occasion, had been just in the simplicity.
She couldn't--and he knew it--say what was true: "Oh, you 'use'
her, and I use her, if you will, yes; but we use her ever so
differently and separately--not at all in the same way or degree.
There's nobody we really use together but ourselves, don't you
see?--by which I mean that where our interests are the same I can
so beautifully, so exquisitely serve you for everything, and you
can so beautifully, so exquisitely serve me. The only person
either of us needs is the other of us; so why, as a matter of
course, in such a case as this, drag in Charlotte?"

She couldn't so challenge him, because it would have been--and
there she was paralysed--the NOTE. It would have translated
itself on the spot, for his ear, into jealousy; and, from
reverberation to repercussion, would have reached her father's
exactly in the form of a cry piercing the stillness of peaceful
sleep. It had been for many days almost as difficult for her to
catch a quiet twenty minutes with her father as it had formerly
been easy; there had been in fact, of old--the time, so
strangely, seemed already far away--an inevitability in her
longer passages with him, a sort of domesticated beauty in the
calculability, round about them, of everything. But at present
Charlotte was almost always there when Amerigo brought her to
Eaton Square, where Amerigo was constantly bringing her; and
Amerigo was almost always there when Charlotte brought her
husband to Portland Place, where Charlotte was constantly
bringing HIM. The fractions of occasions, the chance minutes that
put them face to face had, as yet, of late, contrived to count
but little, between them, either for the sense of opportunity or
for that of exposure; inasmuch as the lifelong rhythm of their
intercourse made against all cursory handling of deep things.
They had never availed themselves of any given quarter-of-an-hour
to gossip about fundamentals; they moved slowly through large
still spaces; they could be silent together, at any time,
beautifully, with much more comfort than hurriedly expressive. It
appeared indeed to have become true that their common appeal
measured itself, for vividness, just by this economy of sound;
they might have been talking "at" each other when they talked
with their companions, but these latter, assuredly, were not in
any directer way to gain light on the current phase of their
relation. Such were some of the reasons for which Maggie
suspected fundamentals, as I have called them, to be rising, by a
new movement, to the surface--suspected it one morning late in
May, when her father presented himself in Portland Place alone.
He had his pretext--of that she was fully aware: the Principino,
two days before, had shown signs, happily not persistent, of a
feverish cold and had notoriously been obliged to spend the
interval at home. This was ground, ample ground, for punctual
inquiry; but what it wasn't ground for, she quickly found herself
reflecting, was his having managed, in the interest of his visit,
to dispense so unwontedly--as their life had recently come to be
arranged--with his wife's attendance. It had so happened that she
herself was, for the hour, exempt from her husband's, and it will
at once be seen that the hour had a quality all its own when I
note that, remembering how the Prince had looked in to say he was
going out, the Princess whimsically wondered if their respective
sposi mightn't frankly be meeting, whimsically hoped indeed they
were temporarily so disposed of. Strange was her need, at
moments, to think of them as not attaching an excessive
importance to their repudiation of the general practice that had
rested only a few weeks before on such a consecrated rightness.
Repudiations, surely, were not in the air--they had none of them
come to that; for wasn't she at this minute testifying directly
against them by her own behaviour? When she should confess to
fear of being alone with her father, to fear of what he might
then--ah, with such a slow, painful motion as she had a horror
of!--say to her, THEN would be time enough for Amerigo and
Charlotte to confess to not liking to appear to foregather.

She had this morning a wonderful consciousness both of dreading a
particular question from him and of being able to check, yes even
to disconcert, magnificently, by her apparent manner of receiving
it, any restless imagination he might have about its importance.
The day, bright and soft, had the breath of summer; it made them
talk, to begin with, of Fawns, of the way Fawns invited--Maggie
aware, the while, that in thus regarding, with him, the sweetness
of its invitation to one couple just as much as to another, her
humbugging smile grew very nearly convulsive. That was it, and
there was relief truly, of a sort, in taking it in: she was
humbugging him already, by absolute necessity, as she had never,
never done in her life--doing it up to the full height of what
she had allowed for. The necessity, in the great dimly-shining
room where, declining, for his reasons, to sit down, he moved
about in Amerigo's very footsteps, the necessity affected her as
pressing upon her with the very force of the charm itself; of the
old pleasantness, between them, so candidly playing up there
again; of the positive flatness of their tenderness, a surface
all for familiar use, quite as if generalised from the long
succession of tapestried sofas, sweetly faded, on which his
theory of contentment had sat, through unmeasured pauses, beside
her own. She KNEW, from this instant, knew in advance and as well
as anything would ever teach her, that she must never intermit
for a solitary second her so highly undertaking to prove that
there was nothing the matter with her. She saw, of a sudden,
everything she might say or do in the light of that undertaking,
established connections from it with any number of remote
matters, struck herself, for instance, as acting all in its
interest when she proposed their going out, in the exercise of
their freedom and in homage to the season, for a turn in the
Regent's Park. This resort was close at hand, at the top of
Portland Place, and the Principino, beautifully better, had
already proceeded there under high attendance: all of which
considerations were defensive for Maggie, all of which became, to
her mind, part of the business of cultivating continuity.

Upstairs, while she left him to put on something to go out in,
the thought of his waiting below for her, in possession of the
empty house, brought with it, sharply if briefly, one of her
abrupt arrests of consistency, the brush of a vain imagination
almost paralysing her, often, for the minute, before her glass--
the vivid look, in other words, of the particular difference
his marriage had made. The particular difference seemed at such
instants the loss, more than anything else, of their old freedom,
their never having had to think, where they were together
concerned, of any one, of anything but each other. It hadn't been
HER marriage that did it; that had never, for three seconds,
suggested to either of them that they must act diplomatically,
must reckon with another presence--no, not even with her
husband's. She groaned to herself, while the vain imagination
lasted, "WHY did he marry? ah, why DID he?" and then it came up
to her more than ever that nothing could have been more beautiful
than the way in which, till Charlotte came so much more closely
into their life, Amerigo hadn't interfered. What she had gone on
owing him for this mounted up again, to her eyes, like a column
of figures---or call it even, if one would, a house of cards; it
was her father's wonderful act that had tipped the house down and
made the sum wrong. With all of which, immediately after her
question, her "Why did he, why did he?" rushed back, inevitably,
the confounding, the overwhelming wave of the knowledge of his
reason. "He did it for ME, he did it for me," she moaned, "he did
it, exactly, that our freedom--meaning, beloved man, simply and
solely mine--should be greater instead of less; he did it,
divinely, to liberate me so far as possible from caring what
became of him." She found time upstairs, even in her haste, as
she had repeatedly found time before, to let the wonderments
involved in these recognitions flash at her with their customary
effect of making her blink: the question in especial of whether
she might find her solution in acting, herself, in the spirit of
what he had done, in forcing her "care" really to grow as much
less as he had tried to make it. Thus she felt the whole weight
of their case drop afresh upon her shoulders, was confronted,
unmistakably, with the prime source of her haunted state. It all
came from her not having been able not to mind--not to mind what
became of him; not having been able, without anxiety, to let him
go his way and take his risk and lead his life. She had made
anxiety her stupid little idol; and absolutely now, while she
stuck a long pin, a trifle fallaciously, into her hat--she had,
with an approach to irritation, told her maid, a new woman, whom
she had lately found herself thinking of as abysmal, that she
didn't want her--she tried to focus the possibility of some
understanding between them in consequence of which he should cut
loose.

Very near indeed it looked, any such possibility! that
consciousness, too, had taken its turn by the time she was ready;
all the vibration, all the emotion of this present passage being,
precisely, in the very sweetness of their lapse back into the
conditions of the simpler time, into a queer resemblance between
the aspect and the feeling of the moment and those of numberless
other moments that were sufficiently far away. She had been quick
in her preparation, in spite of the flow of the tide that
sometimes took away her breath; but a pause, once more, was still
left for her to make, a pause, at the top of the stairs, before
she came down to him, in the span of which she asked herself if
it weren't thinkable, from the perfectly practical point of view,
that she should simply sacrifice him. She didn't go into the
detail of what sacrificing him would mean--she didn't need to; so
distinct was it, in one of her restless lights, that there he was
awaiting her, that she should find him walking up and down the
drawing-room in the warm, fragrant air to which the open windows
and the abundant flowers contributed; slowly and vaguely moving
there and looking very slight and young and, superficially,
manageable, almost as much like her child, putting it a little
freely, as like her parent; with the appearance about him, above
all, of having perhaps arrived just on purpose to SAY it to her,
himself, in so many words: "Sacrifice me, my own love; do
sacrifice me, do sacrifice me!" Should she want to, should she
insist on it, she might verily hear him bleating it at her, all
conscious and all accommodating, like some precious, spotless,
exceptionally intelligent lamb. The positive effect of the
intensity of this figure, however, was to make her shake it away
in her resumed descent; and after she had rejoined him, after she
had picked him up, she was to know the full pang of the thought
that her impossibility was MADE, absolutely, by his
consciousness, by the lucidity of his intention: this she felt
while she smiled there for him, again, all hypocritically; while
she drew on fair, fresh gloves; while she interrupted the process
first to give his necktie a slightly smarter twist and then to
make up to him for her hidden madness by rubbing her nose into
his cheek according to the tradition of their frankest levity.

From the instant she should be able to convict him of intending,
every issue would be closed and her hypocrisy would have to
redouble. The only way to sacrifice him would be to do so without
his dreaming what it might be for. She kissed him, she arranged
his cravat, she dropped remarks, she guided him out, she held his
arm, not to be led, but to lead him, and taking it to her by much
the same intimate pressure she had always used, when a little
girl, to mark the inseparability of her doll--she did all these
things so that he should sufficiently fail to dream of what they
might be for.

Henry James

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